Sparse solvers provide essential functionality for a wide variety of scientific applications. Highly parallel sparse solvers are essential for continuing advances in high-fidelity, multi-physics and multi-scale simulations, especially as we target exascale platforms. This paper describes the challenges, strategies and progress of the US Department of Energy Exascale Computing project towards providing sparse solvers for exascale computing platforms. We address the demands of systems with thousands of high-performance node devices where exposing concurrency, hiding latency and creating alternative algorithms become essential. The efforts described here are works in progress, highlighting current success and upcoming challenges. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'Numerical algorithms for high-performance computational science'.